Work costing £23,000 is now under way at St Mary’s Church in Great Bedwyn after thieves ripped lead from two sections of its ancient roof during a night-time raid.

The theft, three months ago, has resulted in water pouring onto the roof and causing further damage inside the church, which dates to the 14th century.

Funds, which had been earmarked for other key maintenance and repair projects, have now been diverted to pay for new roof and to install a security system.

James Flecker, chairman of the Great Bedwyn Church Trust, said the raiders helped themselves to lead from two areas of roofing.

He said they targeted the far side of the building, from Church Street, so as to more readily avoid detection.

Mr Flecker said: “They ripped some 14 sheets from the west end of the south aisle and another six or so from above the vestry.”

Plastic sheets were placed on the roof in an attempt to prevent rain gushing into the building.

But Mr Flecker said it was virtually an impossible task.

He said: “The rain, unfortunately, has been heavy. A few weeks ago, during the storms, two bucketfuls a day were coming in. The vestry and the south aisle became very wet.

“This has obviously caused more damage, though I’ve no idea exactly what and how much. Our immediate concern is to repair the roof.”

The trust is a non-religious organisation formed by villagers in 1956 to raise money for the upkeep of and repairs to the fabric of the church.

Its previous contribution paid for the re-wiring of St Mary’s and a further £9,000 is about to be spent on a re-pointing project to prevent damp and crumbling plaster.

Last month the trust committee agreed to use its entire reserves of up £15,000 to help pay for the roof and alarm system, with the Parochial Church Council (PCC) contributing around £8,000.

Mr Flecker said: “The theft of the lead was a real blow. The bill will come to about £23,000. It is estimated that the stolen lead will not have fetched the thieves much more than a couple of hundred pounds.

“The money we are now using would have gone to other projects that are important. But repairing the roof is absolutely essential.”

Anyone wishing to raise money for the trust, either by donations, Gift Aid, or staging fundraising events, can call Mr Flecker on (01672) 870079.